Suicide prevention notes removed from Gorge Bridge
River Johnson, a 17-yearold from Taos County, wanted to do something for people at the Gorge Bridge who think about killing themselves.
She came up with the idea of Hope Notes: small, inspirational messages tied to the railings of the bridge. Considering how tough the holidays can be, Johnson wanted to keep the notes up through Jan. 2.
She and a team of volunteers put up the first round of laminated notes Dec. 9 and the second Dec. 22.
In both cases, workers with the New Mexico Department of Transportation have quickly taken the notes down.
“The message in the notes is a positive one, but we can’t allow people to attach anything to the bridge,” said Paul Brasher, District 5 engineer for the DOT.
Brasher’s concern is that allowing one type of campaign at the bridge could “set a precedent” for other groups to put less-positive notes or advertising on the bridge.
“If you disregard the positive message, you’re defacing the bridge,” Brasher said. While he did not cite a specific policy or department rule to justify removing the notes, he said it was standard procedure to clean up graffiti or vandalism.
DOT crews have also had to remove locks and stickers placed on the bridge railings.
When a DOT worker began to remove the notes Monday (Dec. 24), a man at the bridge became aggressive and irate, according to New Mexico State Police spokesperson Dusty Francisco.
State police were dispatched to the bridge around 10:25 a.m. “State police talked to the male subject and through investigation it was determined that there was no crime committed. No arrests were made,” Francisco said via email.
The male was not identified.
Both Johnson and Jill Cline, a member of Help Outreach Taos, said they do not support “anyone acting like this” toward a DOT employee who was doing their job.
“We want to know how we can affect policy, so we can allow these kinds of displays to happen,” Cline said. “It is so important.”
According to the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, more than 40 suicides have occurred since the bridge was built in 1965. Three of those occurred in July alone.
Hope Notes, a project of Common Grounds: A Taos Teen Co-Op and Help Outreach Taos, has received the support of Taos Police Chief David Trujillo, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe and Staci Matlock, editor of The Taos News.
Hogrefe created a Hope Note featuring the Taos County Sheriff’s Office badge that read, “WE CARE ABOUT YOU!!! Know that help is available during times of crisis. If you know someone struggling please call our Local dispatch (575) 7582216 or 1-855-NMCRISIS
(662-7474) day or night.” Hope Notes organizers plan to begin placing the messages at businesses around Taos that support the idea as well.
River Joy Johnson ties a HOPE note to the Río Grande Gorge Bridge on Sunday (Oct. 9). Johnson helped launch the project to distribute notes of support and hope around town in an effort to prevent people from taking their own lives.